John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Monarchy - a fantasy we all own


At times like this monarchy is not too bad. Yes, it's odd to have a head of state who lives on the other side of the world and, yes, it grates to put anyone on a pedestal purely by virtue of birth.

But the true worth of a monarchy is that it provides more than a head of state. It provides people whose entire lives we own, to watch, discuss, love or lament.

We claim the right to share their important moments and study them like living dolls.

We keep them in a fantastic existence but they remain real enough to give us occasional lessons on life.

An item on TV3's Campbell Live the other night featured an expert on body language who studied film clips of William and Catherine to tell us whether they were really in love. It sounds as silly as much of the froth we have been reading this week but it wasn't.

The clips showed different responses when the direct question was put to three couples: Edward and Sophie, Charles and Diana, William and Catherine.

All were naturally embarrassed to be asked if they were in love but two of the couples engaged each other's eyes comfortably and frequently as they answered.

Charles could not look. "Oh yes," said Diana. "Whatever love means," added the poor fellow, who had felt obliged to marry someone.

That sad clip has been played often. The real value this time was the study of the others, especially the shine in Sophie's eyes. Young people do not get much help to marry well. Many social problems might be reduced if they were taught how to recognise the real thing.

There is something about royalty that encourages particularly intimate interest. Among the most avid watchers are writers who dismiss it with bitch journalism. They try to hide their thrall with snide references to more detail of royal lives than I carry in my head.

The liberties we can take with royalty are of immense constitutional value. If the royals are not beyond criticism nobody can be. Republicans should notice this.

One difference between a President and a King is that the President's family is not public property. When his son or daughter marries it might make a picture in the paper, not much more.

A President, or his press secretary, can get on the phone to an editor and threaten never again to speak to a paper that crosses a generally recognised line dividing his job from his family.

A palace press secretary might try to do likewise but would lack the same leverage. A monarch doesn't speak to reporters, has no job in that sense and has to accept there is no recognised line protecting a royal family.

In return for the extraordinarily exalted status they are accorded, the crowned head and every heir should expect that any part of their life, or a person in it, to be of public interest.

Imagine growing up as the heir to a throne. At some stage in your adolescence the enormity of your future would strike you in full. You alone of the millions around you have been born to be the personification of their state.

Their laws will be made in your name, their government and armed forces will act in your name. A society will look to you for leadership it cannot have from democratic representatives: unity beyond controversy, stability beyond elections.

These people will need you to be admirable, dignified, dutiful and splendid. They will need all of those qualities so much they will invest you with them even if you don't try very hard.

You will, of course, never have to bother about money, houses, cooking, gardening, driving a car or doing very much for yourself unless you want to.

But that is trifling beside the honour you hold by accident of birth. Contemplating it all, wouldn't you be humbled? Wouldn't you resolve to live up to your good fortune in full?

Knowing you have not one country but 16, wouldn't you make it your mission to know those places intimately, visit them often, keep in touch with their events, be there for their big occasions, joyful or sad?

Little things have soured me over the years. The Queen's spiritless speech at the opening of Auckland's Commonwealth Games.

Prince Charles' failure to attend Hillary's funeral ... It is amazing how little people ask of royalty, but more amazing to notice how little the Windsors have been inclined to do.

Prince William has new blood. He came for Christchurch and Pike River. He didn't stand at a distance and offer stiff handshakes to those he met.

He leaned to people, listened and stood with them. He won back New Zealand and Australia. In him we may have the deal.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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